Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Taipei WhiskyLive Expo 2013
You know I love me a good booze-fiend expo, and I'm a bit of a whiskey dog, so Taipei WhiskyLive was right up my alley. Having no idea that there apparently were similar expos in 2011 and 2012, I excitedly rolled up to this one ready to try me some fancy rotgut.
We had a big Indian lunch, which was good - smart to start on a full stomach and delicious meal. Brendan joined my friend Joseph, my sister Becca and I for lunch and then saw us off - he's not so into whiskey.
I went with a budget of NT$3000 (about US$100), figuring with the discounts on offer that I could get myself a pretty nice bottle or two without breaking the bank, and also knowing that a budget was essential: I am quite aware that I am capable of spending that much and more on good whiskey.
For the cost of NT$500 (the price of one admission ticket), you get a free glass (it's lovely and tulip-shaped and is engraved with "Taipei WhiskyLive". Like at wine expo, you can try several different kinds of products, but while WhiskyLive is smaller than wine expo, it seemed to be more crowded. There weren't as many booths and there were far fewer "small booths of importers and distributors selling a curated selection of fine labels". WhiskyLive had a few of these, but it seemed anchored by lots of big "brand name" booths, in various degrees of fancy set-up.
You could even pay extra for special tastings or tastings of very expensive whiskeys - I felt that after paying NT$500 to get in that I wasn't going to pay for tastings once inside. There were also classes held and full-on tastings with professionals.
You could also pay extra for access to something called "Jim Murray's Inner Sanctum", which...well, maybe they need a new name for that. One thing I don't want to enter is Jim Murray's inner sanctum (or anyone else's for that matter).
Best line from the expo was from one such tasting - "and now let's try the twelve-year-old!"
Think novelty photos, whiskey ice cream (so-so) separately built spaces that you have to queue up or pay a fee to enter complete with fancy colored mood lighting, smoke machines, chrome and marble tabletops, leather sofas etc., and large signage for well-known whiskey purveyors - Suntory, Johnnie Walker, Macallan, The Famous Grouse, Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, Highland Park etc. etc..
Because whiskey has a kind of "businessman" vibe in Asia, not in quite the way wine does, this place wasn't geared toward foodies/gourmets/whiskey aficionados so much as businessmen who think they're aficionados but are really in it because it's expensive and an image boost.
So...smoke machines, fancy "VIP" areas, and booth babes.
Lots of booth babes.
But there were still some good things to try, and anyway one can't drink too much whiskey. I was quite taken with a brand called Ben Nevins...I tried some, immediately started calling it "Ned Bevins", and moved on to try some more kinds before making a decision of what to buy.
We tried some Japanese whiskies - "I still liked the Venn Beavis!"
We tried some samples of other alcohols - there were also booths for midori, rum and Svedka vodka - and something good called The Arran - "that was good, I'll probably buy some, but I also really liked that Len Kravitz." I've had Hibiki before but I was happy to enjoy some again, and plenty of distributors had various kinds of Laphroiag (spelling?) on offer. I can get that in Taipei, though, at a regular store, so I'm not too worried about it.
"OK, so you got your ridiculous photos with these Johnnie Walker people. Now let's go so I can buy some Zen Nebbits!"
Joseph: "It's Ben Nevis."
"Yeah, Venn Bobbit!"
Anyway, I got my Zen Levitz (13 year), and also tried a rather nice "heavily peated" whiskey from these fellows:
And a delicious NT$6000 (approx. US$200) whiskey that was just as expensive on discount...
And also got The Arran 12 Year, which has a nice caramelly taste.
I did like that while people seemed surprised at times when I asked to taste the peatiest whiskies and the oldest vintages with the strongest flavors, but I didn't have to literally wave away bottles of lighter, sweeter whiskies that I wasn't as interested in. At wine expo, I felt at times like people saw me (a woman) and picked up the light, fizzy, white or pink wines and I had to be more aggressive in demanding (nicely) what I really wanted samples of: the darker, spicier, woodier, drier wines.
I also appreciated that the crowd was mixed. No idea how 'into' whiskey the women where, but some sure seemed to be. A refreshing change from the common teetotalling, or "I'll drink one Taiwan Beer fruit flavor, that's all!". Which, of course, is fine - I'd never pressure someone to drink something they didn't want to or couldn't handle (I didn't pressure Brendan to come to this expo at all), but it's nice to be around others I can enjoy a nice whiskey with. Men and women.
All in all, a great way to spend a rainy Sunday in Taipei.